State funding OK'd on final day Assembly approves bond for building at Agricultural Center

April 08, 1997|By Jackie Powder | Jackie Powder,SUN STAFF

On the final day of the General Assembly's 1997 session, Carroll lawmakers secured $300,000 in state bond money for a new multipurpose building at the Carroll County Agricultural Center.

The matching fund legislation approved yesterday and a measure passed earlier in the session that will permit a referendum on increasing the number of County Commissioners from three to five were the most significant pieces of legislation sponsored this year by Carroll's six-member State House delegation.

The legislature also approved the delegation's request to allow the County Commissioners to sell $18.4 million in bonds to finance roads, schools and other projects.

The other local proposals sought modification to the county liquor laws. They were approved by the legislature, with one exception.

"All in all it was a nice session for the delegation and the commissioners," said Republican Del. Joseph M. Getty. "There was lots of cooperation."

Carroll legislators had requested $600,000 for renovation and expansion work at the Agricultural Center. Del. Howard P. Rawlings, a Baltimore Democrat and chairman of the Appropriations Committee, pledged to approve the balance of the request next year, said Del. Ellen L. Willis, the Carroll delegation's only Democrat.

Willis, who focused much of her work this session on securing funding for the project, said she was pleased with the amount of the award.

"The bond money was extremely tight," she said. "I'm very relieved that there is a commitment in writing for the remaining amount, and that means this project can break ground after the 4-H fair in August, which was what the goal was."

The Carroll County Agricultural Center Board, which must match the state funding approved for the project, has raised just over $300,000 in private and in-kind donations, said David L. Greene, director of the county's cooperative extension service.

"We're going to be kicking off a major fund-raising effort, and this means everybody's serious about it," Greene said. "It's full steam ahead right now."

Del. Donald B. Elliott said he was disappointed that the project did not receive full funding.

"It's the only capital project we asked for," he said. "We thought we would have gotten the total requested."

A local bill, drafted by Elliott, will allow Carroll voters to decide whether to expand the number of County Commissioners in a referendum at the November 1998 general election. If the referendum succeeds, five commissioners would be elected in an at-large vote in the general election of 2002. The referendum could be moved up if a special election is scheduled before June 1, 1998.

"It was my observation that our county had matured and grown and it was time to look at a restructuring of government," Elliott said.

The bill drew criticism from the County Commissioners, proponents of charter government and Willis, the only member of the Carroll delegation who opposed the proposal. Willis said the bill was an attempt to undermine the efforts of a citizens group to establish charter government, which would change the county's government from three commissioners to a county executive and council.

The group, which includes the mayors of several Carroll towns, spent seven months collecting nearly 6,000 signatures calling for the appointment of a board to write a charter that would be put before voters. The county elections board is expected to complete verification of the signatures this week.

Elliott said his bill was not an attempt to derail charter supporters, and that he first drafted the bill for the 1996 General Assembly session, months before the charter government movement began.

"The charter petition hadn't even started," he said. "At some point down the road, charter may be the best form of government, but [five commissioners] seemed to be a reasonable interim type of step."

The delegation secured General Assembly approval for several bills to modify county liquor laws. The legislation will:

Allow the county to grant microbrewery licenses, provided the taverns are a minimum distance from churches and schools.

Increase the license fees for the Maryland Wine Festival from $15 to $50.

Increase the fee for a special and temporary alcoholic beverage license from $10 to $50.

Establish a $1,500 golf course license to allow the sale and consumption of alcohol on fairways and in clubhouses.

Establish a $100 beer-tasting license, similar to wine-tasting permits, to allow sampling of microbrews and specialty beers.

The General Assembly failed to approve a local measure that would have given the County Commissioners the authority to set liquor license fees.

"It's been the tradition of the General Assembly to retain strong controls over all aspects of local liquor legislation," said Getty. "Allowing Carroll County to set fees would set a precedent that doesn't exist in other counties."

Pub Date: 4/08/97

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